NXTCOMM validates the antenna design and targets the scales – PaxEx.Aero
NXTCOMM recently completed validation of its Ku-band antenna design with GTRI at its electromagnetic testing and evaluation facility. The NXTCOMM antenna achieved an efficiency of more than 88% over the entire band. (Photo credit: NXTCOMM)
The flat antenna manufacturer NXTCOMM is marking the external validation of its Ku-band solution with a big boost. The company wants to scale up to production quickly, and a handful of recent milestones bode well for those plans.
It did exactly what it promised. It almost sounds boring, but that’s not the case at all.
– Steve Newell, commercial director
On the way to mass production
Getting a small test board working is a challenge. Switching from this to series production increases the complexity and the risks. Steve Newell, Chief Commercial Officer, describes the results of the first test boards as “spectacular” and almost identical to the predictions of the NXTCOMM models.
Next up are the full size panels, which are roughly 3-4x larger than the test boards. They contain hundreds of items instead of just ten. These panels form the basis for the antenna products that are ultimately delivered to customers. “All of the risk we put into the demo boards shows the design features. This risk reduction is so important that we demonstrated these design criteria. And we are looking for ways to further reduce the risk, to ensure that manufacturability is easy, and to ensure that the product being made mimics these widely distributed products. “
Co-founder and CEO David Horton confirms this optimism with an allusion to the established physics of the corporate approach. “We didn’t come up with any new math or new phase shifters or other components that appeared to be the core of the holy grail of competing products. What made this easy for us was finding the technology we had that was successful and proven. We didn’t have to go through four or five iterations. We were able to nail it the first time. Because the technology has been proven. As simple as that. “
An optimistic timeline, but …
When the larger panels are built, they undergo another series of tests that cover performance and environmental quality. This happens in parallel to the evaluation of the manufacturing techniques. Full-size prototypes are expected over the summer. Ultimately, Newell anticipates that production-level assemblies will be available in the fourth quarter and will arrive at the NXTCOMM offices for final assembly and eventual delivery to customers.
However, it remains to be seen which customers are exactly. The company makes no secret of its multi-line pursuit, Newell explains, “We’re a startup and we’re going to keep track of where the dollars are coming from, and right now these just happen to be in defense sectors on the ground and in the air. In addition, Horton expects development to be “very fluid as we work our way through people’s needs [commercial aviation] Industry timing strategies and financial recovery. “
Given that the existing antenna solutions work well enough for the satellite solutions in orbit, the timing makes perfect sense. Neither airlines nor connectivity providers want to switch to new phased array solutions in the next year or two. There’s no compelling reason to do the shift and invest the extra money.
For example, Intelsat continues to support the Thinkom Ku3030 (also known as 2Ku) antenna platform. Aviation President John Wade recently told PaxEx.Aero his views that “ESAs are inevitable … [But] The HF performance of the 2Ku antenna is excellent. This means that this efficiency is very high from the point of view of network utilization. I don’t think the beginnings of ESAs will have the same RF performance. We believe it will take a few years for the ESAs to achieve what the ThinKom antenna can do today. “
While NXTCOMM may deny how long it will take to achieve this equivalency, it is clear that commercial aviation offerings will be a secondary goal for the company, at least today.
On the plus side, it would be a huge win for NXTCOMM to establish one line of products and push the others forward. The sub-assemblies entering the company are the same regardless of the application. Newell explains: “These multiple sectors can be supported with a common panel. This is how they move so easily between defense and aerospace needs. The circuit boards look the same to everyone, but how they are packaged or finished is customer specific. “
Newell suggests that the models worked so well: “I didn’t have to change the things I would normally model a client in terms of efficiency in order to create a design or a quote for what their future products might look like like to create. These models have remained constant through these efforts because they mimic so closely what we saw with the test pattern. “This applies to both commercial aviation and defense options.
Additionally, Newell notes that any defense-oriented solution built today “will certainly be the forerunners in building arrays that would end up in aircraft” as the commercial aviation segment expands.
“Now it’s a matter of scaling up and moving on to the next phase of our development activity.” In this regard, acquired from Horton, the newly updated board of directors dramatically expands an already deep satellite history and brings additional skills and relationships to the company.
They are very skilled, well-rounded thinkers who think outside the box and have a certain amount of experience to understand the nuances of starting up [a business]and then look at a much bigger picture. The networking ability they have to support the business and customer opportunities, the seasoned manufacturing knowledge base they bring with them is a good sign of all the challenges our company not only faces in the design phase, but also really understands what the satellite industry does. They see it, they understand, and we couldn’t be happier to have the diversity and skills that all board members bring to the table.
Consideration of the risks
The optimism is perhaps to be expected. And while there are some risks to achieving those goals, most of the time Newell believes that these will come in the form of another paying customer and distract the company from its current goals. Still, he sees the schedule as “pretty reasonable” to deliver on those promises and get hardware up and running.
That would be a huge win in a market where many promises have not been kept over the years.
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